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22 Aug 2018

Manchester City: Are we sure... Bernardo isn't a central midfielder?

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A firm favourite

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The skill set of a central midfielder

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His time will come

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Evolution under Pep

REUTERS/Eddie Keogh

After Manchester City’s 2-0 win over Chelsea in the Community Shield, Pep Guardiola was effusive in his praise for one player. 

"Right now it’s Bernardo and ten more, but it’s about what you do over the season," Guardiola claimed. "In this moment Bernardo is far above the other guys. Today the performance [of Bernardo] was a masterpiece."

Naturally, this was a statement that needed to be taken in context, a statement as much about the fitness of players in pre-season after various levels of exertion during the summer as about how much Guardiola rates the Portuguese maestro.

A firm favourite

Guardiola certainly rates him though, especially after Bernardo’s gradual integration into the title-winning side which saw him improve month-by-month. 

Ederson and Kevin De Bruyne apart, Bernardo was involved in more games than any other City squad member, although many of his early appearances were off the bench. 

That’s rarely the case now. In fact, Guardiola has stated that Bernardo Silva will not leave City for as long as he is manager of the club. 

What’s also interesting, however, is that the Catalan manager directed the praise towards a player who had spent most of the friendly games playing in central midfield, raising talk of whether he could become the natural heir to his namesake, David Silva, who, at 32, is approaching the twilight years of his career, even if his performance levels are as good as ever.

Action Images via Reuters/Carl Recine

Bernardo Silva is not the first player to find himself in this position. The aforementioned David Silva has spent plenty of time out on the flank during his City career before finding a home in the centre. 

It is understandable. In the past five years, City have been blessed with a succession of playmakers who naturally levitate towards the centre. 

It is no surprise that to crowbar such talent into teams managers have at times resorted to playing them in wider positions. However, now that City have invested heavily in natural wide talent, the likes of Bernardo Silva can flourish in what may well be their natural habitat.

The skill set of a central midfielder

This shift was not immediately clear when Bernardo Silva moved to City. 

He had spent much of his time wide at Monaco too, so, on the surface, it seemed this was where Guardiola intended to play him. 

He is not a natural wide player, though his skill with a football has allowed him to adapt and flourish near the touchline. We see wide players traditionally as pacy with the need in the modern game to work the whole of their side of the pitch, pitching in with defensive duties when required, covering the full back, especially ones who like to maraud forward. 

REUTERS/Adam Hunger

This is not really Bernardo’s game and it is unlikely Pep Guardiola would expect it of him. He certainly does not have the pace to beat a fullback and, as a result, often cuts back inside towards a crowded penalty area.

A central berth suits his skill-set perfectly, though. Whilst he may not have yet reached the heights of David Silva (nor be expected to yet at the age of 24), he has one asset that perhaps David Silva lacks, namely a constant goal threat. 

Playing centrally, then, allows him to utilise such a skill and his goals during City’s last two visits to the Emirates prove his innate ability on the ball and an eye for goal.

His time will come

And yet against Huddersfield Town, Silva was back in a wide position with no right back behind him as Guardiola unveiled a new experimental formation to combat teams who look only to defend against City, a formation devoid of natural attacking wide players. 

Silva had little defending to do as City predictably dominated the match, City’s defence shifting across the pitch when required, but it seems his calling as a central midfielder is not guaranteed just yet. 

REUTERS/Eddie Keogh

After all, there is still stiff competition for the central midfield positions at City and you feel that the hierarchy in the squad suggests that in a team containing the likes of Kevin De Bruyne and the two Silvas, it would be Bernardo that would shift wide. 

Or perhaps it suggests that he can maintain his performance levels wherever he operates. Either way, the arrival in the summer of another wide player in Riyad Mahrez suggests that Pep sees a greater role for Bernardo centrally in the future. 

The injury to Kevin De Bruyne can only accelerate that, unless Guardiola sees a problem playing the two Silvas together in the centre.

Evolution under Pep

Positions are so fluid under Guardiola that sometimes it’s hard to define where players principally operate. 

Against Arsenal, Bernardo Silva may have started centrally but drifted wider at times. This is the beauty of City’s attacking talent. He, like Sane, Sterling, David Silva or Kevin De Bruyne can function comfortably across the line. 

In the 90th minute against Huddersfield, it was Bernardo Silva who scuffed a shot right in front of the goal, the keeper palming the tame shot away.

For as long as David Silva maintains his performance levels, Bernardo Silva will continue to spend time on the right side of the pitch. But his evolution since joining the club last summer suggests that one day he will operate regularly away from the flanks.

There’s little doubt that Bernardo Silva is ready to take centre stage.